Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

Legal wrangling over Orange County’s use of jailhouse informants is expected to be among the top stories in 2017, along with continued efforts to fight homelessness and major upgrades in local entertainment attractions.

Orange County legal headlines are likely to be dominated by the continued battle over the use of jail informants, and by extension, its impact on the pending death-penalty case against Scott Dekraai, the worst mass killer in county history.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Thomas Goethals recently declared that his patience has run so thin on the county’s efforts to unearth all of the possible evidence Dekraai’s attorneys are entitled to have that he is considering holding a rare contempt-of-court hearing with Sheriff Sandra Hutchens.

Hutchens’ attorneys told the judge they are doing their best to come up with pertinent evidence regarding the handling of confidential jailhouse informants, but they have run into road blocks with at least two deputies who may face criminal charges related to past testimony in Dekraai’s case.

Goethals has scheduled a hearing in January to consider publicly releasing more information on the handling of informants.

Meanwhile, the Attorney General’s Office has a Tuesday deadline to decide whether it will further appeal Goethals’ ruling that the removed the Orange County District Attorney’s Office as the prosecuting agency in the penalty phase of Dekraai’s case. That ruling was affirmed by the Fourth District Court of Appeal, but state prosecutors could take the case to the California Supreme Court.

Unless the state Supreme Court turns the case back over to the district attorney, the Attorney General’s Office will have to decide whether to keep pursuing the death penalty for Dekraai, who pleaded guilty to killing eight people at a Seal Beach beauty salon, or to just have him sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The Orange County Public Defender’s Office, which represents Dekraai, will also keep pursuing in the new year its efforts to have the District Attorney’s Office recused from the case against Cole Wilkins, an accused thief who is charged with murder in a 2006 crash that killed Los Angeles County sheriff’s Deputy David Piquette.

Meanwhile, Steven Dean Gordon, a convicted killer of four Orange County prostitutes, is facing a possible death penalty when he is sentenced in February. Jurors recommended the ultimate punishment for the transient who was convicted of killing the four women, allegedly with the help of his friend and co-defendant, Franc Cano, who will go on trial later and also faces the death penalty.

Also in 2017, the county is planning to open a full-service homeless facility in Anaheim aimed at getting transients off the street permanently instead of just providing them temporary shelter. Officials are so eager to get the facility open they are planning to have it operational even before workers finish renovations at the building at 1000 N. Kraemer Place.

Officials in Costa Mesa, meanwhile, will be awaiting word on the future home of the San Diego Chargers. If the team decides to leave San Diego and move to Los Angeles, the Chargers plan to lease office space and 3.2 acres in Costa Mesa for a team headquarters and practice facility. Chargers chairman Dean Spanos said he would wait until after the regular NFL season before deciding whether to remain in San Diego.

Voters in that city rejected a new stadium proposal for the Chargers, and the team has an option to join the Rams in an under-construction stadium in the Los Angeles area.

In February, Social Distortion, which formed in Fullerton in 1978, will christen the new home of the House of Blues in Anaheim. The concert venue moved from Downtown Disney to the Anaheim GardenWalk entertainment and shopping center.

In the summer, Disneyland will reopen its Rivers of America and Disneyland Railroad attractions, which were closed to make way for the new “Star Wars”-themed attractions.

Disney’s Orange County competition, Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park, will add several new waterslide attractions in 2017. One of the new attractions, Shore Break, will reach seven stories high and include six different rides.

—City News Service

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